Finding the Focal Point

July 13, 2010, 10:16 am  Posted by needlearts

bunch of flowers

Those of you who are gardeners are probably going to find this amusing, but I had no decent zinnias last year. (It wasn’t entirely my fault, because some pesky creature kept mowing them down as soon as they were ready to bloom.) It was pretty frustrating, because I hosted Son #1′s engagement party at my house late in the summer and I had wanted everything to be just so. It was instead a lesson in acceptance.

This year, though, the pesky creature has moved on (or the bobcats or the owls or the hawks have helped it move on), aDesign! jacketnd my zinnia crop looks very promising. I was so thrilled to see the first one open that I snipped it to include in this summer bouquet. As I was cutting it I thought, “I only have one, but I’ll make it the focal point of the arrangement.” Then I remembered Design! by Steve Aimone, a great book we did in 2004 that’s a guide to design basics for artists and crafters, and a blog entry was born.

Steve, a wonderful artist and art educator, defines the focal point as the place of primary emphasis in the design, the area in the composition that exerts the most pressure. It’s the spot that draws the eye, and also serves as the place that the eye can come back to rest after experiencing the totality of the design. I looked over the chapter on focal emphasis, and I found that a few of my photos illustrate some interesting principles from the book on planning a focal point. (There are several fun exercises in the book about determining a design focus, too.)

Just as I wanted the year’s first zinnia to be the focal point of my bouquet, I also played around with it as the focal point of the photos. Some shots achieve this more effectively than others, as I think you’ll see. I knew from my photography classes years ago that off-center compositions are more visually interesting, but I didn’t remember much else about effective design. Maybe my little flower exploration will help you the next time you’re planning a project—any project, a collage, a quilt, or what-have-you—and want to use an off-center focus point.

first flower shot

This one didn't quite work for me; while the zinnia was somewhat below and right of center, it was dominated by the black-eyed Susans, which extend to the edge of the frame. Placing elements at the outside edge of the composition is somewhat modern concept, but you can see how well it works here.

second flower image

Zooming in a little closer on the bunch, I now have the zinnia at the edge of the frame, but the ambitious black-eyed Susan off-center at the bottom right commands focus yet again.

third image

Ah, better…the zinnia is now slightly right and above center, and my eye jumps right to it.

fourth flower image

Here's a definite unh-uh for me: The zinnia landed in the center of this frame, the black-eyed Susans to the upper right are pulling my eye out of the photo, and then there's that cool orange coneflower distracting me at the upper left. Is there a focal point here at all?

last flower image

When in doubt, zoom in and re-compose. Now the zinnia commands the photo because of several design principles: It's off-center and it's much larger in scale than the other elements. The colorful petals from some of the other blooms are directing the eye toward the zinnia, too.


15 Responses

    Ray says:

    Terrific tips, Valerie … now can you recommend a camera for me? I'm still using film!

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